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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cayman Quake

Before all else -- the quake in Haiti is undoubtedly one of the most horrific catastrophes in our lifetime, if not of all time. The images of human suffering are intolerable, and it is unlikely that the poor unfortunate souls enduring this tragedy will see true relief for some time. Let's not even get into the ones that will die before relief can get to them.

The nearby island of Grand Cayman is also coping with the aftermath of a 5.8 quake that rattled the nerves of all residents yesterday. This one rattled me as well -- given that just a couple of days ago I was visiting George Town and hanging out with some friends along some of the very spots where the tremors were felt.

(Note: I lived there for a bit of time, but that's another story.)

Even though Cayman has been rocked by quakes in recent history (December 2004 brought about another that registered 6.8 on the Richter scale), this one, although damages were minimal, landed on an island where raw nerves are still greatly exposed thanks to another cataclysmic event aptly named Ivan the Terrible.

Hurricane Ivan was a category 5 storm that clocked Cayman in September 2004, and with its over 160 mile per hour winds tore up the tiny island and caused heartbreaking damage.
Photographer David Wolfe's website posted numerous images he took that show the extent of the damage. (Full disclosure: I do not know Wolfe but searched around the web for images and found these to illustrate my point.)

During my last visit, I found that most Caymanians now speak of things "before Ivan" or "after Ivan," most like the western world that refers to dates "before Christ" and "after Christ." As I was driving around the island with my friend Denise, she would point out where a home once stood or how the very highway we were on had been lifted by the waters and deposited several feet away. One resident told me that he went to his Seven Mile Beach condo and found ten, fifteen feet tall sand dunes in the vicinity of his front door. And the owners of a bed and breakfast where I stayed told me that the warning didn't come fast enough, and that some folks simply did not have time to get out of harm's way. This couple holed up in one of their spare rooms as the winds howled overhead.

Caymanians are a very resilient people, however, and because of the various industries that have set up shop on island-- banking and tourism -- there were a lot of foreign companies whose investments needed to be protected and as such insurance money poured in and rebuilding took place relatively quickly.

Not so easily rebuilt, however, was the peace of mind of the locals -- it's anybody's guess how many cases of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) are lurking under the usually sunny dispositions of Cayman's people.

In sharp contrast to the prosperous Cayman, it remains to be seen how the impoverished Haiti will fare given this most violent new assault on an already battered national psyche. Unlike Cayman, Haiti is dirt poor and I figure there won't be much insurance money covering some of the hovels where the people eked out their existence. I'm hazarding a guess that PTSS will reign supreme for at least a generation, if not beyond, no matter how much money celebrities and TV telethons bring in.

Amen, and pass the mustard.

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